Greenrealestate: Green roof opportunities

Green Real Estate Feb 18, 2010

Day lilies bloom on the award-winning Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof at Ryerson UniversityBy Elden Freeman
Last year saw a batch of landmark environmental legislation passed all over North America. In the summer the United States House passed the Waxman Markey Act, and in December New York’s City Council passed a package of four green energy bills requiring energy audits and efficiency retrofits on buildings 50,000 square feet or larger. In Canada, Ontario passed the Green Energy Act in May, and during the same month Toronto enacted legislation requiring green roofs on new developments of 2,000 square metres or greater. Amidst this rush of change, it’s not hard to see the emerging pattern: leading jurisdictions are implementing environmental regulations in all industries, and real estate is getting special attention.

These regulatory changes are symptomatic of a larger shift – in how we live our lives and how we conduct business. But looking at these new regulations and those that are bound to follow, real estate professionals shouldn’t be focused on downside and potential liability. Instead they should be seeing the opportunities that these changes represent. Politicians are implementing these regulations because their constituents – buyers and sellers of real estate – recognize the pressing importance of taking serious account of the environmental impact of business and personal behaviour.

The Toronto green roof legislation is of particular interest to agents and brokers. By mandating a feature that had been previously seen exclusively on buildings that were marketed as green, or associated with environmental or nonprofit organizations, we see the mainstreaming of green values at work.

It’s also an example of good business sense: like many other green building improvements, green roofs are an expenditure in which the cost is earned back in utility cost savings. Grasses and vegetation on green roofs improve insulation in the summer and winter, reducing climate control costs. They also minimize the heat-island effect that large buildings can suffer from in the summer, further ameliorating air conditioning costs.

Vegetation can have a filtering effect on the air, and is more esthetically pleasing (for buildings where the roof is visible, or where the green roof is multi-use) than standard concrete installations. A green roof can also decrease water runoff, which has two benefits. First, it puts less strain on the rainwater diversion systems of a building, reducing the erosive effects of weathering from precipitation, which can help reduce long-term maintenance costs. Second, it reduces potentially toxic runoff into city sewers, which reduces the volume of water and overall wear on city infrastructure and also reduces the environmental impact of municipal waste water.

Toronto’s new regulations will have a strong impact on commercial real estate, and on new condominium developments. Condos have used green roofs as a strong selling point to more ecologically aware buyers. Developments in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa all prominently feature green roofs along with other green amenities, which will likely soon be viewed as a standard alongside facilities such as fitness centres, parking and storage.

Agents who are able to understand and strongly convey the benefits of these features to the ecologically aware buyer have a leg up in helping their clients find properties that are a good fit, both economically and environmentally.

Single-family dwellings can also support green roofs, and many of them can reap the same economic and ecological benefits. Finding the right contractor and negotiating things such as how to get insurance on a green roof, are issues that most agents, let alone homeowners, have little experience with.

The opportunity that this presents is significant, with the cost-savings potential of investing in a green roof being substantial. But these assessments need to be made on a case-by-case basis and that will colour how prospective buyers view a given property. Whether on the buying or selling side, real estate professionals who know how green roofs can be used to improve the value and reduce the costs of home ownership have another dimension in which they can serve their clients.

Agents and brokers who want to learn about green roofs, the implications of changing regulations, and other green issues have a great means to do so in The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers. NAGAB has been partnered with leading certifying organizations, grant, benefit and subsidy-providing government institutions, and home improvement suppliers to equip its members with the best in green real estate skills, knowledge and resources. Through NAGAB’s certification courses, seminars and online learning database, the organization enables its members to keep up to date with the best information on energy efficiency, government regulations, potential client eligibility for government assistance, and best practices in green real estate. For more information on how real estate professionals can anticipate and benefit from the wave of environmental change sweeping through the industry, visit online.

Elden Freeman B.A., M.E.S, Broker is the founder and executive director of the non-profit National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB). (416) 536-7325;